Tuesday, July 03, 2007

The Dual Failure of the Press and the Blogs

The purpose of this post here at Wayward is to highlight the failure of the mainstream media, but I have worded it such so that the purpose at the liberal blogs where I crosspost is to highlight their equivalent failures.

I have many problems with and complaints about the blogosphere, but one thing it usually does well is highlight important-but-ignored news items. It was the blogs that pushed Trent Lott’s comments about Strom Thurmond into the news. It was blogs that nailed Dan Rather to the wall. And we all know that it was blogs that highlighted Joe Liebermann’s parroting of the Bush administration on foreign affairs.

Sadly, Katrina recovery is not one of the issues the blogs have chosen to save. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are still Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). New Orleans secondary education couldn’t be any worse if the teachers tried. Crime is spiking in certain neighborhoods, and innocent citizens are getting caught in the crosshairs. The city is a poster child for our health care complaints, if we would only chose to focus on it. FEMA wastes our money on inefficient policies. Rebuildable neighborhood after rebuildable neighborhood sits empty, and all we have to do to make it worth it is build the levees to specification.

And where are the blogs on this issue? Walking hand-in-hand with the mainstream media (MSM). So I come to you today, hat in hand, pleading. To quote Albert Camus, “If you believers don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?”

MSM coverage of Katrina recovery has been woefully lacking. Based on the day-to-day news coverage, you’d never know that recovery has barely started. You’d think the region was back on its feet, in fine shape. Sure, stories about Iraq, climate change, and maybe Scooter Libby deserve more coverage than the Gulf Coast, but what about meaningless early horserace polls, Paris Hilton’s jail time, Anna Nicole Smith’s death, Britney Spears’ hair, missing pretty white girls, and the astronaut diaper? Are these really more important than the hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in our own country??? Is this really worth only one thirty-second question in all of six primary debates?

Now, I’ll be honest; I’ll give credit where credit is due. Anderson Cooper of CNN, Brian Williams at NBC Nightly News, Tavis Smiley on PBS, and NPR’s Steve Inskeep and John Burnett occassionally broadcast from New Orleans – they don’t do it often enough, but at least it’s something. The New Yorker used to run a New Orleans blog, ending it just last month. The New York Times is the lone source I’ve seen that pays any kind of regular attention to the storm’s aftermath; just yesterday it put a story called “Largely Alone, Pioneers Reclaim New Orleans” on the front page. The story begins,

“This is the Gentilly neighborhood today, once a backbone of New Orleans and all but given up for dead less than a year ago after flooding from Hurricane Katrina turned it brown and gray and silent in 2005.

Gentilly, home to about 47,000 people before the storm and a thin fraction of that now, is not dead. Haltingly, in disconnected pockets, this eight-square-mile quadrant north of the historic districts that line the Mississippi River is limping back to life, thanks to the struggles of its most determined former residents.

But they have had to do so largely on their own, because help from government at any level has been minimal, in their accounts. In recent weeks, some residents have reported getting checks from the state’s Road Home rebuilding program, but four-fifths of applicants have not.”

Similarly, for a little while yesterday afternoon the taco truck story “Katrina brought a wave of Hispanics” was one of the top headlines on Yahoo’s! AP Top Stories list. More a racial story than a hurricane one, but hey, attention is attention.

But attention is always short-lived, and you have to tune in at the right times to catch even the big stories, like the Iraq supplemental’s Katrina money or the Congressional hearing probing the Road Home program. Recovery is never the top story, often failing to make the broadcast at all. Even the best of journalists turn a blind eye – MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann rarely covers recovery anymore, and half of Comedy Central’s Jon Stewart’s job is to skewer the MSM, so if they don’t cover it he won’t either. The excuse is that readers have “Katrina fatigue” and don’t want to hear about it anymore, but three problems with this excuse jump out at me: One, reader fatigue is nothing at all like the fatigue residents feel. You will not find an energetic Gulf Coast resident, everyone is so exhausted. Two, since it’s been almost two years since the constant coverage, readers and viewers should be over their initial fatigue by now. Three, a desire to avoid overkill hasn’t stopped the MSM from obsessive coverage of missing pretty white girls and celebrity scandals.

Sometimes, this kind of a problem can be remedied by reading blogs. I have a number of problems with the blogsophere, but one upside is that it does tend to grab hold of important-but-ignored stories. Unfortunately, Hurricane Katrina is not one of those stories. Even the progressive left is paying little attention to the lack of recovery progress. I have cross posted dozens of Katrina entries at Daily Kos over the last few months, and have had a grand total of one make the recommended list – the one with lots of pictures. Even when I give my diaries leftist-friendly titles like “The Failure of Privatization in New Orleans,” the Kossacks just don’t come. If it’s not about John Edwards or impeachment, it’s almost like they don’t want to read it. The Rescue Rangers do better than the rec list, but not much. MyDD is also better, but only marginally, and that’s just because it takes five or six recs to get attention rather than dozens. For whatever reason, I tend to get more click-throughs to my blog from the smaller Democratic Underground than I do Daily Kos or MyDD.

Now, I’m not complaining about a lack of personal attention. This isn’t about me. I’d be just as happy if someone else’s recovery diaries were making the list in lieu of mine. The problem is, nobody else is writing them! Over at MyDD, there have been 17 diaries tagged “Hurricane Katrina” since May 1. Of those 17, 13 were mine, and a 14th wasn’t really about Katrina. In other words, if I didn’t cross-post my blog to the big boys, MyDD would have gone more than two months with only three Katrina recovery diaries – and that’s a rather important two months, given all the money included in the Iraq supplemental. Daily Kos isn’t quite as bad, but I’m not sure I’d give it a passing grade, either. Many of the “Hurricane Katrina” diaries there are just gripes about the many different ways Bush has failed us, and don’t contain any real recovery analysis or news.

This post may be written in a measured tone, I may sound objective and analytical, but the truth is, I’m outraged. I’m still angry at Reagan for repealing the FCC regulation charging the television networks with public responsibility. I’m pissed that MSM execs put ratings and money ahead of justice and humanity. And I’m very upset that even the progressive community ignores one of this generation’s largest domestic needs. What Albert Camus said of social justice and Christians applies to social justice and progressives, as well. “Perhaps we cannot prevent this world from being a world in which children are tortured. But we can reduce the number of tortured children. And if you believers don’t help us, who else in the world can help us do this?” (Emphasis added.)

To the Kossacks who are engaged in this issue, most of them actual Gulf residents – thank you. Nightprowlkitty, chigh, doctor2ju, and the other dozen or so, you rock. Everyone else, get off your butt. Educate yourself about Katrina recovery – here’s a good list of sources. Call and demand your Senators and Congressperson fix the Road Home program, reform FEMA, improve flagging NOLA education, fight crime, investigate the levee failure, and save the wetlands. It’s not the kind of thing Shrub will veto, so Congress can act. Put pressure on the presidential candidates to propose comprehensive recovery agendas. Look for, read, and recommend diaries tagged “Hurricane Katrina” or “New Orleans” at Daily Kos, MyDD, Democratic Underground, and elsewhere. If you don’t, you will continue to fail this nation in one of the same ways Shrub has, and no one wants that.


Clarence said...

Solid editorial. I've recently started asking similar questions. I definitely want to use the Afrosphere and new media connects to exact some change. I'm glad people are still asking questions.

Anonymous said...

Do you have an email address somewhere?

-scout prime

Anonymous said...

Thanks. I emailed